Last week, Democratic — and notably female — lawmakers, including Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) and other members of the Democratic Women’s Working Group, rolled out the Title IX Protection Act. As its name suggests, the bill would codify Title IX guidelines from the presidential administrations of Barack Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton into law. The need for this bill emerges from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’ decision to roll back federal policy giving survivors of campus sexual assault additional rights and protections, which DeVos announced last month.
The issue of campus sexual assault affects male and female students alike, and yet, justifiably, it is still regarded as a women’s rights issue. A 2015 survey by the Association of American Universities found that one in four university women experiences sexual assault. On top of this, gendered perceptions of whether or not a woman is trustworthy — her sexual history, what she was wearing when she was assaulted — tend to skew the direction of proceedings, either with law enforcement or university administrators, against female survivors.
DeVos, who has donated millions to Republican candidates and organizations promoting charter schools in recent years, is one of the select few women in President Donald Trump’s predominantly white, male, Goldman Sachs-cozy cabinet. Led by a woman, the political assault on collegiate women and survivors runs in sharp contrast with the broad narrative that more women in politics and leadership roles inherently equates to feminism.
And yet, the introduction of the Title IX Protection Act, which would reinstate the preponderance of evidence guideline — a policy that lowers the standard of evidence to find someone guilty of sexual assault, and one that DeVos announced she intends to repeal — offers another perspective. Without a doubt, identity-based representation matters so that lawmakers understand their constituents’ experiences. But we need more than just women in office. We need women in office who will work to expand the opportunities of other women, be it through unconditionally supporting their human right to bodily autonomy or fighting pay discrimination and workplace sexual harassment.
Emily’s List, a grassroots organization working to elect pro-choice Democratic women across the country, has received criticism from Republicans and centrists alike for being non-inclusive. But what would be said of the organization if it supported women who believe the state should be able to force other women to give birth?
When Rep. Karen Handel (R-GA), who has expressed support for criminalizing abortion, won the state’s special election in July, Donald Trump Jr. took to Twitter and asked, “Still waiting for the glass ceiling stories, or do conservatives not get them?”
Writer Alyssa Hertzig tweeted back, “Sorry. It’s just kind of hard to get excited about a woman who wants to gleefully rip health care access away from other women.”
Indeed, perhaps the biased, internet social justice warriors — with their outrageous double standards for conservative and liberal women — would write stories about conservative women shattering glass ceilings, if only they didn’t have their hands full writing stories about conservative women shattering other things — you know, like women’s access to crucial women’s health services. To conclusively answer Trump Jr.’s question, perhaps the left wing’s imagined “war on [conservative] women” will abate when conservative women end their war on other women’s bodily autonomy?
Of course, none of this is to say that political polarization and lack of dialogue and understanding are not real problems — they are. At a time of increasing calls for sexual, racial, ethnic and economic diversity, many are also demanding ideological diversity. It may comfort those on the center right and left, perhaps even make them feel like better people, to surround themselves with different ideas, but many of them — that poor people ought to die because they can’t afford health care, that a man of color ought to spend his life behind bars for owning marijuana, that a 12-year-old rape victim ought to become an unwilling mother — aren’t just ideas for marginalized people. As policies, these ideas have lived and deeply detrimental consequences.
Specific to DeVos and Title IX, the freshly romanticized “listen to the other side” mantra may have laid the groundwork for the education secretary’s equivalence of the accuser and the accused, a particularly tone-deaf suggestion at a time when crimes of sexual assault and rape result in the lowest rate of convictions, and some 63 percent of sexual assaults go unreported. Her rollback of Obama-era guidelines will negate the preponderance of evidence standard among other guidelines to protect survivors, which existed to compensate for how many survivors are not able to report their experiences immediately, or present any evidence beyond their accounts of what happened. Her ideas may be “ideologically diverse” in a country where most decent people respect the rights and dignities of rape victims. But to what extent should ideological diversity be the priority, when victims are forced to exist in a system wherein their sexual abusers roam the streets free?
What we as intersectional feminists need to be fighting for is more than ideological diversity, more than hollow representation. We need people who not only look like us, but will also fight for us.
Kylie Cheung is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the editorial director of the Daily Trojan. Her column,“You Do Uterus,” runs Thursdays.